Executives across the globe all faced the same question recently: can my organization go remote? For some, it’s been a matter of securing additional VPNs or keeping track of who took what piece of office furniture home. For others, the switch to remote work has become an existential crisis.
The source of this crisis is that for decades, industrial companies have adopted technology at a similar, considerate pace. Digital transformation was relentlessly discussed, with everyone looking for the best approach. Where to start, what to know, how to roadmap—these made sense as the right topics to explore.
Now, years of planning and technology evaluation has certainly been replaced at industrial companies with a need for speed. A shift likely behind Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s quip : “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
The makers and movers responsible for keeping people healthy, comfortable and safe struggled with the realities of not having essential workers in the field. The manufacturing sector alone, which employees nearly 13 million workers in the US, will likely be hit hard specifically because workers still need to be on site.
The capacity, however, to make remote work possible wasn’t lacking. Industrial companies have just become so good at focusing on efficient operations that a digital-first approach to their business seemed unnecessary. Those, however, were more stable times.
In the coming days, while efficiency will continue to be important, it needs to be paired with a new way of thinking about operations.
What comes after efficiency
Maybe remote work and the digital-first approach that truly makes it possible were seen as a luxury. The restructuring of a global economy, however, creates the pressure to look beyond incremental shifts in efficiency.
What comes next is the combination of efficiency and resiliency. Companies that can absorb the short-term crisis and come out better are poised to not only survive, but thrive. For the post-COVID era, McKinsey recently reminded companies:
“In practice, resilience has a productivity component and a flexibility component. High, and continually rising, productivity helps a company protect its margins, allowing it to ride out smaller changes and giving it the financial firepower to respond to larger ones. The flexibility of a value chain, meanwhile, is determined by its ability to continue generating profit under different supply and demand conditions. Can a company bring its costs down as demand falls? Can it ramp up output to take advantage of market peaks? Can it adjust its procurement activities to benefit from fluctuations in input costs?”
The ability to work remote will be one of these essential capabilities for industrial companies – not only in case of a crisis, but for helping employees think strategically, collaborate with experts across the globe in a matter of moments, and respond to the truly important tasks.
Remote work is feasible today to an extent the makers and movers perhaps didn’t realize was possible. And a number of companies are already highlighting that reality.
PTC provides a SaaS CAD and PLM with OnShape, which lets engineers simultaneously work on the same model. People in multiple locations can not only collaborate, but see the feedback and edits of their co-workers in real time. During COVID-19, the company has been working with MasksOn so that volunteers can instantly share models that turn snorkel masks into something useable by clinicians. The use of 3D printing technology helps to quickly prototype and deliver the actual face mask, with a goal of 50,000 masks over the next 3 – 12 weeks.
Showing what’s possible today, enterprise software provider IFS supported Munters, a manufacturer of sustainable air treatment and cooling systems, on their quick switch to remote. While Munters usually had to send specialists on site to install, service or upgrade systems, COVID-19 made that model difficult, if not impossible. By taking advantage of IFS’s Remote Assistance, a platform that connects ERP and asset management systems, Munster had employees ready to connect with clients in around a week from anywhere. Now they can collaborate through mixed reality and offer remote assistance.
Meanwhile, Siemens has emphasized new digital solutions for machine builders. From their home offices, they’ll be able to try new machine concepts without a physical prototype. From any computer with the software installed, they can thoroughly test the machine, or simulate in the cloud how an automation solution will work in real life.
The quick move to remote working has been a shock for the industrial sector. To come out more resilient than before, industrial companies will need to set aside detailed adoption strategies and start taking action today. We’ll likely continue to see years of digital transformation accomplished in months.
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